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Wednesday, 25 August 1920

Mr FENTON (Maribyrnong) . - The argument advanced by the Minister for Works and Railways (Mr. Groom) might be sound if we had in the Commonwealth as many employers as there are employees. As it is, half-a- dozen nien employed on the one machine in a particular factory might have a very serious grievance, but if, as the result of a consultation, they decided not to work, they might be subjected under this clause to heavy penalties. On the other hand, one man might have 500 or 600 men in his employment, and, without acting in combination with any other employer, he might make the conditions of employment in his factory absolutely intolerable to his men. He would thus inflict hardship on his employees, but since it could not be proved that he was acting in combination with other employers he would not be liable to any penalty. The Government are treading on dangerous ground in proposing to legislate in this way. Many persons have unjustly criticised the principal Act. I hold that the Conciliation and Arbitration Court has done magnificent work, and that those who are always seeking to improve it, in many cases, are only making the position worse than it is. Mr. Justice Powers, by means of a circular addressed to. honorable members, lias conveyed to us an insight of the great work that the Court is doing. He has been able to show that, within five years more than 500 agreements have been made on the conciliation side of the Court. I agree with the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) that the provisions of the Industrial Peace Bill, passed last week, might very well have been embodied in this measure. We shall take a dangerous step by providing for the imposition of severe penalties upon a few individuals who because of a serious grievance refuse to work. Instead of moving towards conciliation in the conduct of industry by amending the principal Act in this way, we shall make the position- of the workers still more uncomfortable. In these days men refuse to work under uncomfortable conditions, and no one can blame them.

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